Virgin Galactic announced Friday that it had become the leading company to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to bring clients to space.
The FAA’s verdict came around a month after Virgin Galactic’s successful experimental flight of the VSS Unity, a model in the company’s SpaceShipTwo class of spaceplanes. Two pilots on the VSS Unity climbed to an altitude of 55.5 miles before landing on Earth on May 22, completing the company’s third crewed suborbital spaceflight.
Thus far, Virgin Galactic has only had the approval to fly employees on its spaceplanes. The new clearance will allow billionaire and Virgin founder Richard Branson to head into space aboard a SpaceShipTwo. It’s not likely that Branson will make it to space before fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, whose ascent is planned for July 20, as Virgin Galactic stated it still needs to test its spaceplanes with full crews.
Virgin Galactic hasn’t set out a particular plan for its fully crewed test flights, but the organization said they’d work this summer in Friday’s statement.
SpaceShipTwo was first introduced to the world in 2009, and its first experimental flight was in 2013. The VSS Unity first passed the barrier into space in 2018.
The FAA has also requested customer approval for private space companies Blue Origin (headed by Bezos) and SpaceX. Blue Origin’s New Shephard rocket has completed several successful uncrewed tests, including an astronaut rehearsal flight in April. SpaceX has carried out three crewed flights on its Crew Dragon spacecraft, including a crewed test flight and two operations to the International Space Station, but has yet to perform crewed tests for its Starship rocket.
Even though these three companies have similar space tourism goals, Virgin Galactic’s approach is the most mechanically different. SpaceX and Blue Origin launch their rockets vertically from the ground. SpaceShipTwo of Virgin Galactic launches horizontally from the air.
The video shows a mother ship called White Knight Two carrying the VSS Unity, which takes off from a runway. The White Knight Two spaceplane takes off and starts climbing vertically after it is released from the ground. Landing is the same as landing an airplane.
You can register on the Virgin Galactic Portal if you’re interested in going into space. However, it may take some time and quite a bit of money.